Spirited away

Film: Stree

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi

Directed by: Amar Kaushik

Duration: 2 hrs 10 mins

Rating: * *

Like many other contemporary Hindi films, Stree belongs to the category which is high on the concept and low on execution. Men folk get dead scared of a female ghost sounds like wonderful idea for a film but then the tone has to be set accordingly – here, I couldn’t  figure out what this film was – whether it was a comedy, horror, romance tale or a feminist tale taking on patriarchy in the  society.

The screenplay is all over the place – had it stuck to one genre, that of comedy, it would have worked better. You can’t arrange a suhaag raat for a ghost in all seriousness – humor and seriousness are seriously mixed up here.

Written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, who gave us Go Goa Gone, this story is set in the town of Chanderi where a female ghoul named Stree has been torturing the residents, particularly the men – she abducts them and leaves their clothes behind and this happens every year during the religious festival. Men are supposed to stay indoors or return home early, that’s a nice touch, keeping in mind what happens in most of our films.

Rajkummar Rao plays Vicky, the finest tailor in town – he knows a woman’s measurement just by looking at her.  He and his friends (Aparshakti Khurrana, Abhishek Banerjee) are all terrorised by the ghost, who is highly active but quite clumsy. Shraddha Kapoor fulfills the glamour quotient – her character whose identity is suspect, is in need of a dress, urgently. An item number proves that the whole feminism angle to the film is just a token.

Pankaj Tripathi plays an expert on ghosts – he is an absolute hoot portraying his character with surgical precision.

There are some clever lines and humorous situations but they are undone in every other scene, especially the seriousness with which the ghost is treated and even the episode where the young man gets possessed, is a yawn.  The climax then gets more chaotic and walks down the beaten path.

The actors have done a mighty good job – the supporting cast of Aparshakti Khurrana and Abhishek Banerjee make an impression while Rajkummar Rao and Pankaj Tripathi steal the show with their sense of timing. They are in great form but the rest of the film is not.


The Great Escape

Film: Papillon

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Roland Moller

Directed by: Michael Noer

Duration: 2 hrs 18 mins

Rating: * * *

Papillon is a remake of the 1973 film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, which itself was based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Henri Charrière, published just a few years before the film.  The question about why is a popular movie being remade remains answered – all one can say is that this is one of the better remakes because it stays faithful to the original – Dalton Trumbo, the co-writer of the original screenplay also gets due credits here.

This film is a tad shorter than its predecessor, which was 150 minutes long. Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) is a safe cracker who is framed for murder. From having a good time with his girlfriend, he is sent off on a ship to a penal colony in French Guiana – to say that life is harsh there is an understatement.

But Papillon has no intentions of hanging around there even though escape is virtually impossible – those who are caught are sent to solitary confinement. He makes friends with Dega (Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury in the forthcoming Bohemian Rhapsody) a timid man who supposedly has smuggled in some wads of cash. The two strike a deal which turns into friendship. The rest of the film revolves around Papi and how he tries to escape, every time he is caught. The story is not just about prison-break though – it is also about him, his character, the inmates and life that exists in such confinements, even today. The colony at French Guiana may have long gone but inmates don’t have it any better in prisons. While Hunnam and Malek are not exactly like McQueen and Hoffman, they do manage to hold fort, on their own.  While most remakes go bombastic with either CGI or divert from the basic story, this film doesn’t make that mistake and stays as true as it can to the original. That could cut both ways, if you have seen the first film then there isn’t much value here but otherwise, this remake makes for a decent watch.


Lost and found

Film: Searching

Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing

Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty

Duration: 1 hr 41 mins

Rating:  * * * *

Director Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature is a highly engaging thriller that hits all the keys during its 100 odd minute duration. Chaganty, who made commercials for Google before taking the plunge into feature films obviously knows a thing or two about technology – but merely knowing it is not enough, how to use it effectively on screen is what matters and the director (who has also co-written the film) deserves full marks on that count.

This ultra low budget but extremely engrossing film told from the point of view of computer screens and cameras, made waves at the Sundance festival and subsequently, it was acquired for distribution by Sony.

The film opens with a Windows XP desktop screen – in a quick and clever montage of photographs, we learn about David Kim (John Cho) and his family – his wife dies of cancer and as a single parent, he brings up his daughter Margot (Michella La). The father daughter bonding is established through a series of text messages that we see on screen – it is this utility of the screen that is used so well, consistently throughout the film.

Margot is a teenager and appears to be a responsible one but nevertheless, her father always keeps a tab on her whereabouts, out of concern. One night, when she is with a study group, he gets a couple of missed calls from her – that’s the last he knows of her before she has gone missing,  His calls and texts to her go unanswered and the tension and worries mount when he learns that she has not been attending piano classes for over six months.

Fortunately, she had left her laptop at home before disappearing and he tries to reach out to her friends only to realise that she hardly had any. He logs on to her Facebook account by resetting the password – first of her email by logging in to the primary recovery email account.  He finds a lot of data there which leaves him dumbfounded. Although he is fairly savvy, he is not up to date with what teenagers do online – “What is a tumbler?” he asks at one point, unaware of the social networking site.

A no-nonsense detective named Rosemary (Debra Messing) is assigned the case but it is the father who is desperate for a breakthrough – thanks to GPS and other technology, he manages to get one but being a suspense thriller, you know there will always be more than meets the eye.

Throughout, even when the story goes beyond the realms of the computer screen or camera, the film makers have resorted to telling the story through these devices and it no point does it look forceful.  Some footage is from a mobile camera while some shots are from a spy cam but most of it is from a computer screen.

Tautly edited and admirable crafted, the film balances the characters and technology very well –You feel for the former and you understand the latter. The framing of the shots is remarkable because there isn’t a great deal maneuverability possible.


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